Film Review: The Adventurers (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


The 1970 film, The Adventurers, is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Adventurers was a massively expensive, three-hour film that was released to terrible reviews and even worse box office.  In fact, it’s often cited as one of the worst films of all time, which is why I wanted to see it.  Well, three weeks ago, I finally got my chance to watch it and here what I discovered:

Yes, The Adventurers is technically a terrible movie and Candice Bergen really does give a performance that will amaze you with its ineptitude.  (In her big scene, she sits in a swing and, with a beatific look on her face, begs her lover to push her “Higher!  Higher!”)

Yes, The Adventures is full of sex, intrigue, and melodrama.  Director Lewis Gilbert, who did such a good job with Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, directs as if his paycheck is dependent upon using the zoom lens as much as possible and, like many films from the early 70s, this is the type of film where anyone who gets shot is guaranteed to fall over in slow motion, usually while going, “Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh….”  A surprisingly large amount of people get shot in The Adventurers and that adds up to a lot of slow motion tumbles and back flips.  Gilbert also includes a sex scene that ends with a shot of exploding fireworks, which actually kind of works.  If nothing else, it shows that Gilbert knew exactly what type of movie he was making and he may have actually had a sense of humor about it.  That’s what I choose to believe.

Despite the fact that The Adventurers is usually described as being a big-budget soap opera, a good deal of the film actually deals with Latin American politics.  For all the fashion shows and the decadence and the scenes of Candice Bergen swinging, the majority of The Adventures takes place in the Latin American country of Cortoguay.  If you’ve never heard of Cortoguay, that’s because it’s a fictional country.  Two hours of this three-hour film are basically devoted to people arguing and fighting over who is going to rule Cortoguay but it’s kind of impossible to really get to emotionally involved over the conflict because it’s not a real place.

Ernest Borgnine plays a Cortoguayan named — and I’m being serious here — Fat Cat.  Seriously, that’s his name.  And really, how can you not appreciate a movie featuring Ernest Borgnine as Fat Cat?

Fat Cat is the guardian of Dax Xenos (Bekim Fehmiu).  Dax’s father is a Cortoguayan diplomat but after he’s assassinated by the country’s dictator, Dax abandons his home country for America and Europe.  While he’s abroad, Dax plays polo, races cars, and has sex with everyone from Olivia de Havilland to Candice Bergen.  He also gets involved in the fashion industry, which means we get two totally 70s fashion shows, both of which are a lot of fun.  He marries the world’s richest heiress (Bergen) but he’s not a very good husband and their relationship falls apart after a pregnant Bergen flies out of a swing and loses her baby.

Throughout it all, Fat Cat is there, keeping an eye on Dax and pulling him back to not only Cortoguay but also to his first love, Amparo (Leigh Taylor-Young), who just happens to be the daugther of Cortoguay’s dictator, Rojo (Alan Badel).  In fact, when Fat Cat and Dax discover that an acquaintance is selling weapons to Rojo, they lock him inside of his own sex dungeon.  That’s how you get revenge!  And when Dax eventually does return to Cortoguay, Fat Cat is at his side and prepared to fight in the revolution.  Incidentally, the revolution is led by El Lobo (Yorgo Voyagis), who we’re told is the son of El Condor.

The Adventurers is melodramatic, overheated, overlong, overdirected, and overacted and, not surprisingly, it’s eventually a lot of fun.  I mean, the dialogue is just so bad and Lewis Gilbert’s direction is so over the top that you can’t help but suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  How else do you explain that casting of the not-at-all-Spanish Bekim Fehmiu as a Latin American playboy?  Candice Bergen plays her role as if she’s given up any hope of making sense of her character or the script and the rest of the cast follows her lead.  Ernest Borgnine once said that The Adventurers was the worst experience of his career.  Take one look at Borgnine’s filmography and you’ll understand why that’s such a bold statement.

The Adventurers is three hours long but it’s rarely boring.  Each hour feels like it’s from a totally different film.  It starts out as Marxist agitprop before then becoming a glossy soap opera and then, once Fat Cat and Dax return home and get involved in the revolution, the film turns into “modern” spaghetti western.  It’s a film that tries so hard and accomplishes so little that it becomes rather fascinating.

And, if nothing else, it reminds us that even Fat Cat can be a hero….

 

Hollywood History Lesson: Errol Flynn in SANTA FE TRAIL (Warner Brothers 1940)


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A movie lover could get pretty spoiled living on a steady diet of Errol Flynn/Warner Brothers epics from the 30’s and 40’s. You’ve got Flynn, the personification of the classic “movie star”, performing heroic feats and romancing his leading lady (usually Olivia de Havilland ). A historical setting   serving as the backdrop to move the story along, expertly directed by Michael Curtiz or Raoul Walsh, a cast full of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, a majestic music score (mainly Max Steiner , but there were others equally as talented), action, drama, humor, conflict… what more could a film fan ask for?

SANTA FE TRAIL has all this and more, an energetic pre-Civil War tale guaranteed to hold your interest for its 110 minutes no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you live on. It’s characters are drawn from history, but historic accuracy be damned… these films were all about…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy 102nd Birthday Olivia de Havilland


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Hollywood royalty Olivia de Havilland is alive & well, and celebrating her 102nd birthday today! In her honor, here are 4 shots from the films of Olivia de Havilland:

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; D: Michael Curtiz)

Gone With The Wind (1939; D: Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948; D: Anatole Litvak)

Lady in a Cage (1964; D: Walter Grauman)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: THE IRISH IN US (Warner Brothers 1935)


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Faith and begorrah! You can’t get much more Irish than a film featuring Jimmy Cagney , Pat O’Brien , and Frank McHugh all together. THE IRISH IN US is sentimental as an Irish lullaby, formulaic as a limerick, and full of blarney, but saints preserve us it sure is a whole lot of fun! The story concerns three Irish-American brothers, the O’Hara’s, living with their Irish mum in a cramped NYC apartment. There’s sensible, levelheaded cop Pat (O’Brien), dimwitted fireman Michael (McHugh), and ‘black sheep’ Danny (Cagney), who’s a fight promoter.

O’Brien, Cagney, and McHugh

Pat announces his intention to marry pretty Lucille Jackson (19-year-old Olivia de Havilland in an early role), while Danny’s got a new fighter named Carbarn Hammerschlog ( Allen Jenkins , who’s a riot), a punchy pug who “every time he hears a bell ring, he starts sluggin”! Danny and Lucille ‘meet cute’ while he’s out…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Heiress (dir by William Wyler)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1949 best picture nominee, The Heiress!)

“I have been taught by the masters.”

— Catherine Sloper (Olivia De Havilland) in The Heiress (1949)

I’m not going to spoil too much of the ending of The Heiress, beyond saying that those are the words with which Catherine ends the film.  Taken out of context, they may not seem like much.  However, after you’ve spent two hours with Catherine, her father, and the man who claims that he’s in love with her, these are perhaps seven of the most chilling words ever uttered.  When you hear them, you don’t know if you should cheer or be very, very afraid.  Myself, I had both reactions but, then again, I often do.

The Heiress, which is based on a play that’s based on a novel by Henry James, takes place in 19th century New York City.  Austin Sloper (Sir Ralph Richardson) is a widely admired and very successful physician.  He’s also a very cold man, one who has never recovered from the death of his wife.  He lives with his daughter, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland).  Catherine is shy and is continually told that she’s plain and boring.  She’s devoted to her father, though Austin is cruelly manipulative of her.  Catherine, who has never been in a relationship, has pretty much accepted that she’s destined to be alone.

Or, at least, she has until she meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift).

From the first minute that Catherine meets him, Morris seems to be perfect.  He’s handsome.  He’s intelligent.  He’s witty.  He’s charming.  He’s Montgomery Clift, for God’s sake!  For Catherine, it’s love at first sight and Morris says that it’s the same for him.  Suddenly, Catherine’s life no longer revolves around her father.  Now, she dreams of marrying Morris.

Austin isn’t happy about this.  Despite showing his daughter nothing but disdain for most of her life, Austin suddenly become protective of her.  He says that Morris only wants to marry her because she stands to come into a great deal of money.  To prove his point, he announces that, if Catherine and Morris get married, he will disinherit Catherine and neither she nor her husband will ever get their hands on his money.

How will Morris respond to Austin’s threat?  Well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out and you really should!  The Heiress is a great movie, featuring noirish direction from William Wyler and brilliant performances from by de Havilland, Richardson, and Clift.  Dr. Sloper may be a monster but Richardson plays him with so much authority that it’s hard to dismiss his worries about Morris, no matter how much you may want to.  Montgomery Clift, meanwhile, keeps you guessing about Morris’s intentions.  And, finally, the great Olivia de Havilland deservedly won an Oscar for her performance as Catherine Sloper.  Over the course of the film, Catherine goes from being a withdrawn wallflower to being a … well, I can’t tell you anymore.  I don’t want to spoil the film any more than I already have.  The ending will leave you shaken in the best possible way.

The Heiress was nominated for best picture but lost to All The King’s Men.

Blade Runner 2049 wins in New Mexico!


Yesterday, the New Mexico Film Critics Association named their picks for the best of 2017!  They also became the first group to pick Blade Runner 2049 as the best film of 2017.

Here are their winners:

Best Picture
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “Lady Bird:

Best Director
Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Runner Up: Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”

Glenn Strange Honorary Awards

  • Glenn Close
  • Olivia De Haviland
  • John Carpenter
  • David Lynch

Best Actor
Winner: Sam Elliot, “The Hero”
Runner Up: James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

Best Actress
Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, “mother!”
Runner Up: Jessica Rothe, “Happy Death Day”

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Catherine Kenner, “Get Out”
Runner Up: Maryana Spivak, “Loveless”

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Harrison Ford, “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: Ewen Bremner, “Trainspotting II”

Best Ensemble
Winner: “Raw”
Runner Up: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: “November”
Runner Up: “Lady Bird”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: “The Disaster Artist”
Runner Up: “Call Me By Your Name”

Best Animated Film
Winner: “Loving Vincent”
Runner Up: “The Breadwinner”

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: “November” (Estonia)
Runner Up: “BPM” (France)

Best Editing
Winner: “November”
Runner Up: “Blade Runner 2049”

Best Cinematography
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “Song of Granite”

Best Music/Score
Winner: “The Shape of Water”
Runner Up: “mother!”

Best Production Design
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “The Shape of Water”

Best Documentary
Winner: “City of Ghosts”
Runner Up: “Faces Places”

Best Young Actor/Actress
Winner: Garance Mirillier, “Raw”
Runner Up: Sophia Lillis, “It”

Best Original Song
Winner: “The Misery of Love” from “Call Me By Your Name”
Runner Up: “Prayers for this World” from “Cries from Syria”

Screwball Comedian: Joe E. Brown in ALIBI IKE (Warner Brothers 1935)


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We’re about a quarter of the way through the baseball season, so let’s take a trip to the ballpark with Joe E. Brown in ALIBI IKE, a 1935 comedy based on a story by Ring Lardner, one of the best baseball writers of the early 20th Century. Brown, known for his wide mouth and comical yell, is an admittedly acquired taste; his “gosh, golly” country bumpkin persona is not exactly what modern audiences go for these days.  But back in the 30’s he was one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws, specializing in sports themed comedies  revolving around wrestling (SIT TIGHT), track and field (LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD), swimming (YOU SAID A MOUTHFUL), polo (POLO JOE), football ($1,000 A TOUCHDOWN), and racing (boats in TOP SPEED, airplanes in GOING WILD, bicycles in SIX DAY BIKE RACE).

ALIBI IKE is the final chapter in Brown’s “baseball trilogy”. The first, 1932’s FIREMAN, SAVE MY CHILD, found him…

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